Picking that bucket of berries this morning—with the mosquitoes buzzing and the sweat dripping and nearly hyperventilating as I blew the pesky insects off my nose— reminds me of a fabled 50 year-old story.
A story without which there might not be me.
Once Upon A Time…
A fair maiden named Darlene met a strapping young man named Mitchell on the high school debate bus. At once Mitchell knew he’d found his mate. It took the cheery, Darlene Sunshine just a little longer.
Soon high school let out for the summer. And the field looks different come summer.
Mitchell must have known too, about teenage summers and how other fellas work the fields. So one July day a lot like today, along came young Mitchell.
But Mitchell was wise and wasn’t empty-handed when he came courting fair Darlene. He came bearing the crown jewel of mid-summer treasures. For it, the smitten young man had endured fierce summer sun, fought many a thorn and attacks by mosquitoes.
Mitchell was so taken with Darlene that those hours in the bramble seemed like seconds at the junior prom. Such was Mitchell’s love for the sunny and smiling Darlene.
The Cost of Love
So now, with the fields ripening fast in the middle of a Mukwonago summer, here comes Mitchell, bearing the costliest of gifts for a princess.
Darlene opened the door. Maybe she saw Mitchell’s scratches and welts and his strong juice-stained, thorn-scratched hands.
Then those bright hazel eyes locked on the pail. Oh, that pail!- glistening, laden with the finest of July.
And with just one look at the amethyst gems in that brimming-full pail, Mitchell and Darlene’s deal was sealed. (At least that’s the story I tell.)
Mom and Dad have been married 50 years today.
Afterward: Freedom and Love and Raspberries Aren’t Free
I could leave it there, with the raspberry love story.
But I can’t. Because the analogies are so clear. And, honestly, I think Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind. Because they value this truth too: important things are costly.
So on this raspberry picking day two weeks after Independence Day as our country struggles through massive decision about Covid-19, please remember: freedom is not free.
Our founders pledged their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor to declare this nation free. Brave men and women still give their lives to preserve our liberty. It is effortful still, holding freedom up by tolerating different ideas— even ideas about wearing masks and virtual school plans—and by living virtuous lives.
Oh, do I know this is hard. Holding my tongue and listening, trusting good motives not despising others with different conviction… Is. So. Hard. It costs me comfort and much energy.
But spiritual freedom is costly too. It cost God the Father the death of his Beloved Son and it cost Jesus Christ his life. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness; we are not our own, we were bought at a price (Titus 2:14, 1 Corinthians 6:20). His blood-stained, nail-pieced hands bought us out of sin’s bramble.
Lately, I’ve been telling my teenaged son, None of the good stuff is free. Those ads and popups promise it. But you get what you pay for. Or what someone else paid dearly for.
So, no—love is not without cost and freedom is not free.
Neither is a bucket of raspberries.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.
The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.
At least for a rascal like me. It’s so easy to say I love the world or a major subset of it. But when it gets down to it, I’ve got my hands full loving the people right in front of me.
I am right there with Brother D. Some of the same petty things that disturbed him, disturb me. The brother who picks at his food and the sister who sniffles, the brother who doesn’t clean up his dog’s doo and the sister who speaks in high-pitch- that these little things can annoy me reveals a sin-sick heart. Not to mention the deadlies, like my envy and pride.
If I- sometime difficult, irritating sister- cannot love my sometime difficult, irritating brother – then Houston, we have a problem.
Because how can I love the God I cannot see if I cannot love the realio, trulio people in right in front of me?
Or, to borrow the Beloved Apostle’s words, If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Why am I writing this now?
First, because I need to hear it. I want this chaos to breed clarity. And love. As always, I’m writing first to me.
Second, because I want you to be free from false guilt you might feel for not having a feeling of love for people you don’t know. We cannot love what we do not know.
Third, because our world is being shaken. And when things are shaken we must anchor on truth. Since the murder of George Floyd the world wants change. One thing I know about change- about good, gospel change- is that it happens one sinful heart at a time. Racism and all other forms of selfish, sinful, setting ourselves above others only ends when Christ comes to rule our hearts.
This is not to say we ought to be content with the state of our love. As if we could say, “I’ve loved enough. I’m done.” No way. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Be zealous to love and do good (Titus 2:14, Romans 12:11).
But we can’t let our love for “humanity in general” or our zealous words on social media substitute for patient, kind love for the real people in our lives.
Talk Is Cheap
The course of thy life will speak more for thee than the discourse of thy lips. Puritan George Swinnock wrote those words 400 years ago.
But Apostle John said way before that, Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
We say we love God. We celebrate his love for us. But there is in us irritation and impatience and jealousy and greed and selfishness with respect to the people that God has placed nearest to us.
Brothers and sisters, should we say this gospel contradiction is okay? It’s easy to say, ‘I love God.’ Surely it’s much easier to claim allegiance to a God who I can’t see than to live in self-sacrificing love toward the people that we live the nearest to.
It is so easy to say we love people we don’t know. To hashtag my #love for the world is cheap. But to show patience with a sister who’s annoying me is much more costly. It costs my time and energy.
To forgive a neighbor who mows down my flowers, to rejoice with a sister who gets what I want or forbear a brother whose words wound- those can be harder than loving the world.
God Loves The World
The past two weeks have tapped me dry. In large part, because I have passionate and caring friends and family on “both sides” of these vital issues. I want to love them well.
I’ve searched my heart and sought peace as the Spirit leads. I’ve read uncomfortable words and wept for the heavy burden of sins. I’ve reached out to black brothers, albeit awkwardly, to to express my imperfect love.
But I haven’t loved the world. By grace, and for Christ’s sake, I am trying hard to love my neighbor. The one I met yesterday on the way to the mailbox, the friends I listened to last night, and the three who share this house with me.
It sounds glorious to say I love the world. But I cannot love the world. Only God is big enough and pure enough and loving enough to love the whole wide world.
Let Us Love Our Neighbors
Which is as He intended. Correct me if I’m wrong, but God never called me- called us- to “love the world.” That’s God’s job. Almighty God alone is equal to that task (John 3:16).
In point of fact, we are called not to love the world. (See 1 John 2:15.*) We are called to do something much harder than loving the whole world. We are called to love one another (John 13:34), to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:30-31) and to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). And loving those I see, who hurt or disagree with me, is far harder than loving the world.
So in these days when love-talk for humanity abounds, our challenge is first to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:34-40)
But there is another challenge.
Let us rest in the unfailing love of God who alone can and -Hallelujah!- does love the whole wide world.
We love because he first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:19-21
*In Scripture and in John’s writing, the word world has multiple meanings- from the created physical universe to the people who dwell on earth, to a particular subset of them. This article helps explain. For the purpose of this post, I’m using world in the sense of “all humanity.”
So I won’t rehash more. Because this wedding anniversary is a milestone too. I’ve been Mrs. Wallace for as many years as I was not.
What’s changed in 21 years- besides those full cheeks and fringy brown bangs?
Easy. I rely way more now than then on God’s grace. Only by clinging to HIs strong forgiving, forbearing, speak-truth-and-keep-loving grace could we have possibly made it this far. And we know this pleases God, because, after all, marriage is really all about that, about how Christ loves his church.
But there have been some quotes that have helped me get up and press on in the last 21 years since we two became one.
These are those: courage-making marriage quotations from those way wittier and wiser than I.
8 Favorite Marriage Quotes
What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? -Gary Thomas
Marriage is the greatest test in the world. It’s much more than a test of sweetness of temper…It is a test of the whole character and affects every action.-T.S. Eliot
Love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.-C.S. Lewis
One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached, it would have said, “Here’s to helping you discover what you’re really like!” -Gary and Betsy Ricucci
The meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people. —John and Noël Piper
I have know many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible. – G. K. Chesterton
A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers. -Ruth Bell Graham
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. – Tim Keller
The T.S. Eliot quote compares marriage to a great test. Well, we’ve failed a lot along the way. We’ve been irritable and downright discouraging to each other some days. There’s been anger and hurt. We still get tempted to lash out and to clam up, to let the sun go down on our anger and keep a record of wrongs andgo our own way.
But love doesn’t do that and we love because God first loved us. And God’s love is a tenacious and gracious, steadfast and covenant-keeping love and marriage was made to reflect the Gospel- the good news of God’s great love for flawed, sinful man. Jim knows my flaws the best and on, earth, he loves me most.
I’ve heard it said that to be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.
So today I pray that our marriage is more and more a reflection- albeit a smudgy one some days- of just that sort of love.
May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ.
I would give anything to have Ki-Bum just one more night. I miss him so much.
Granted, that’s from Gabe and Gabe’s our emotional one. But we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we both sob uncontrolled sobs. We all miss Ki-Bum.
I can’t think of a single unkind thing he did.Even when he broke his fishing line and I got so mad at him, he forgave me right away. Or when Dad beat him at Slapjack every single time and he still wanted to keep playing. Orlike when I offered him soggy Swiss Chard for lunch on his third day and he turned to the boys and asked, “You like?” They shook their heads and Ki-Bum smiled at me, then shook his head too.
He wasn’t fluent in English, but Ki-Bum understood. When I was feeling some heat for how I was enticing the boys to do summer school work, I asked if his Mom gave rewards to help him study, Ki-Bum shook his head again. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But I not study.”
Ki-Bum was humble too. Most afternoons we were home, like a model son, he’d settle with his math at the dining room table. And break to serenade us at the piano with Summer.
But, Mom, if you had brothers and cousins in WI would you want to still live in Korea? Gabe wondered, when we’d caught our sobbing breaths.
How Much Love Can You Pack Into One Month?
Short answer: Way more than the 48.6 pounds of luggage- and Pringles and Nerd ropes and Nutella- Ki-Bum stuffed into his suitcase Friday. So much love his leaving hurts.
Long answer: So much that a passing glance at the rice (“bahp”) or Ramen (“Lah-myun”) in the cupboards and the chopsticks (“jeotgalak”) in the drawer chokes me up a bit. We all took a stab at our sticky rice and real Ramen-not soup- with those.
So much that the kings and pawns and a bishop and knight stand hallowed in state, days after the last checkmate. Series total: 18-2, Ki-Bum over Sam.
So much that Gabe won’t shoot HORSE or PIG with his friends because it reminds him too much of fun at the hoop with Ki-Bum. It makes me too sad.
That much love.
Joy Shared Is Joy Doubled
I’ve been so slow to learn this JOY lesson. Still, I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my happy little joys private and Leave well enough alone.Then, by grace, the other side of my mind steps up and replies, Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!
Seeing our daily lives through Ki-Bum’s new eyes proved it again. Joy shared is joy doubled. Ki-Bum helped us enjoy common things more: meals together and “family-sized” ice cream, straw bales and fishing and even flat tires.
In four weeks we played more Sequence and chess, more rummy and ping-pong and spoons, took more bike rides than in the whole year before. There was more just-for-fun plunking at the piano and more lingering around the dinner table with more home-cooked dishes and more meals with friends and cousins and uncles and aunts.
To be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedroom over three-handed wars, more midnight games of slapjack and more waking up at ten AM than ever before.
But I think we grew a little more kind and courteous last month too. Maybe a little more Korean?
Regardless, Ki-Bum brought out our best and smoothed out our worst.
Only Some Other Friend Can Bring Out
We miss Ki-Bum and we miss the joy we shared with him. But there’s one more thing I miss:
Ki-Bum brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him. I miss what we were when he was with us.
C.S. Lewis writes about that in the “Friendship” chapter of The Four Loves. He describes how he missed his good friend Charles Williams, and the way Williams changed what we’d call ” the dynamics” of the group of friends called the “Inklings.”
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth,…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.” *
That’s what happened last month. Ki-Bum brought out sides of Sam and Gabe sides- that only a big brother like Ki-Bum could bring out. Gabe plunking Summer, and Sam turned Chessmate. And fun sides of Jim I don’t see much, and I suppose more domestic sides of me.
Ki-Bum, to borrow from Lewis, “augmented our loves.” That’s the third reason our hearts were wrung.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves,
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
“I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him;…
If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.
So be it. Ki-Bum was a hand-picked gift from God. Sure, the International 4H Exchange Team officially made the match, but God’s hand was in it. I wouldn’t have picked him on paper. But I’m so grateful we were matched.
When Ki-Bum’s profile came a month before we met, I remember what I thought. when I saw his age- 15 (16 Korean)- and thought, So much older than the boys. And when I saw his hobby list; shopping, comeputer [sic] games, webtoon, eating, listening music- Oh dear. I thought. A teenager who likes shopping and video games and webtoon- whatever that is.
Oh, well- a month goes by fast.
Kamsahamnida- 감사합니다 -Thank you, Ki-Bum.
So fast. The days went slow but the month went fast. But I won’t let myself say, Too fast. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. But it’s so hard to sit loose, to keep open hands. But if our hearts need to be broken and He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.
So kamsahamnida, Ki-Bum. Thank you. Thank you for leaving such a big hole in our hearts that we’re looking to only One who can fill it. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as our son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your kind, patient, courteous Korean heart to us wild Wallaces.
Kamsahamnida, Lord, for Ki-Bum.
So teach us to number our daysthat we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Remainder of *paragraph reads: “Of course the scarcity of kindred souls – not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices – set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”